Monday, 11 July 2016

A Visit to the Wargames Holiday Centre, 10th August 1980.

Guy Barlow, a fellow member of the A Military Gentleman Forum, has kindly sent me his account of his trips to the Gilder Holiday Centre as a young man of 15. I would like thank him for taking the trouble to put together an account of how Peter Gilder made such an impression on a young wargamer.

I was first consciously aware of Peter Gilder and his Holiday Centre when I read an article about him in the May 1980 edition of Military Modelling Magazine. His figures were also on the front cover of that magazine. The British Napoleonic firing line was awe inspiring. I had definitely seen his work before for example on the front cover of Bruce Quarrie’s book Napoleon’s Campaigns in Miniature which I bought in 1977. 
 That book became my first real wargaming book and as a result I started collecting my first Napoleonic army - the Russians. I initially bought Minifigs after a visit to the Minifig shop in Victoria but then switched to Hinchliffe figures probably because these were the ones featured in the Quarrie book and the only wargames shop I knew near my home in North Staffordshire was a shop called Stafford Garrison which sold Hinchliffe figures.

Without wanting to sound like some awful Adrian Mole character (I was aged 15 at the time) I kept a diary in those days so I can be fairly precise what happened. On 29th April 1980 I bought the magazine and the next day I wrote off for a brochure and on 6th May I got a letter back from Peter Gilder.

After pestering my long suffering father, I booked a general week at the Thornton-le-Dale centre. My father dropped me off at Derby station and I took the train on Sunday 10th August 1980 to York where Peter collected us. Having read Paul’s recollections, I‘m afraid I was one of those unaccompanied children but honestly I hope I wasn’t too much of a pain.

There were definitely 8 of us at that week. A few of the names from my diary are David from Birmingham, Eric from York and Simon from Devon. From what I remember Peter was there almost all the time. On the Monday we played a Napoleonic game to introduce us to the rules. I played Russians against the French and lost. 
 Then on Tuesday a US Civil war game. On Wednesday it was British against the French and learning how to paint horses etc with oils. Peter had a small painting shed and he spent time explaining how he painted. I still have a few examples of what we painted together. I also remember cowboy game in the evening. Finally a 2 day mass Napoleonic game – French against Russians and Austrians. This was inconclusive as the game swung across the table and there were so many troops it was impossible to manoeuvre.

 The other guests were either other teenagers or adults and most nights the adults went into the village to the pub. We then watched war movies (Waterloo, A Bridge Too Far, the Battleground series etc) in the TV room or read from his library. Peter also had a cupboard full of figures where we could buy things.

Reading Paul’s recollections, I do not recall any disappointment and in fact my reaction was that I was totally blown away by the set up. If some of the figures were not brilliantly painted they were so much better than mine that it did not even register. I went back twice more to Thornton–le-Dale in the following summers when I was 16 and 17.  Once again they were primarily Napoleonic weeks but we also played games in the Sudan and more Civil War. I became a Grand Manner convert after my visit. My Russian units were expanded from 24 – 32 figures and they were rebased. The launching of Miniature Wargames magazine with all those lovely figures on the covers only spurred me on.

Reading my diaries on the later visits, many of the other guests came from abroad ie France and Sweden. Also from the photos quite a few of the other guests were also teenagers or students. Perhaps this was because we could only go in school holidays. This may have been a bit of a burden for him but on every week I went to, the place was full. At all times Peter and his wife were very welcoming.

Later on I also did a couple of weekends at Scarborough as I was at uni down the coast at Hull and it was only a short train ride away. One of those was after Peter was no longer there. We played a large Marlborough Blenheim game and also an Arnhem game on those weekends.

It’s strange what you remember but on my third visit to Thornton-le Dale this was just after I had passed my driving test. I was only 17 and I borrowed my mum’s car and drove it all the way to Yorkshire. Once Peter found out he banned me from taking my car out for the week as he clearly thought my parents were bonkers and he certainly banned me from going to the pub as I was under age. I also remember him not being impressed with some of the teenagers smoking. One of the French boys was like a chimney.

So in conclusion I can say I have very happy memories of my visits to Peter’s centre. They were a crucial catalyst period in my wargaming life and for the next couple of decades I continued to collect Napoleonic’s and I also had a sojourn into the Sudan. I have attached some photos from those 3 visits. Only the first dates from 1980. I have tried to send you photos of people rather than just out of focus ones of the troops. Regretfully my camera was pretty rubbish so the quality is not that great but perhaps someone will be able to put names to faces. 


  1. I never got to Thornton le Dale.., but made my first visit age 18 to Scarborough - the photos are however long gone!

    1. Thats a shame Dave, when I finally went, Mike Ingham was in charge, so I never met Peter Gilder, which was a real shame.

  2. Hi Guy - what a great account of your weekends at the WHC. Very enjoyable indeed. Would love to have some more stories on your Sudan games especially any scenarios you recall at all. Any photographs would be pure gold. See you on the AMG Forum.

  3. Sorry it's taken me so long to catch up with this. Thank you very much Guy for taking the trouble to write it and sort out your photos. You are clearly a WHC veteran! As for being a teenager "blown away" I can sympathise as I saw my first Gilder/Featherstone set up in London in 1965 aged 13.

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  5. Have to say I attended one of these weeks around this time and the whole experience was absolute magic.......can especially recollect Peter taking me through painting some of the Italian Wars figures one evening. Inspiring gentleman. The sheer scale of the enterprise was mind blowing back in the day. Gave me and others something to aspire to.